Saturday, January 24, 2009

Russell's Teapot

I found this a few days ago. Something I didn't know about until then, but which, predictably, resonates with me. It was Russel's answer to those who would assert that the burden of proof, for disproving the existence of God for example, lies with the skeptic; not the believer:

If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

And here is something for people who like logical puzzles. Of course, a General Semanticist wouldn't have any problem seeing through this problem in a thrice. Without bragging, may I say that I knew what the question was going to be before I had read it to the end, and the answer was perfectly clear immediately, mainly because I'd actually read the piece and the one crucial word, carrying an equally crucial semantic component, was missing. It's not a question of intelligence or education or logical capability, or any crap like that, but a matter of looking at things in particular ways.

Having told you all this, it might, of course, make it easier to answer...

Suppose there is a village in which all the adult males are clean shaven. In the village is a barber. The barber shaves all and only those adult males who do not shave themselves. So, if Bob shaves himself then the barber does not shave Bob. And, if Bob does not shave himself then the barber does shave Bob.

Question: Does the barber shave himself?

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